Museum of Ancient Inventions: Chelys-Lyra

Chelys-Lyra, Greece, 400 BCE

Used in classical Athens, the Chelys-Lyra is a lyre consisting of a tortoise-shell sound compartment with skin stretched over the opening. Two bars with a crossbar attached extend from the shell and hold the strings. Compared to other Greek instruments of the time, the Chelys-Lyra was small and light, a versatile instrument which could be played sitting, standing or walking. It was played by both men and women, although it is most often depicted in art being played by a man.

Method of Construction

Constructed by: Jolly Killmer, ’97

In reconstructing this instrument, I relied on pictures taken from ancient pottery, which didn’t clearly show how the tuning mechanisms worked. Some showed a thin strip of wood or metal with holes in it to which the strings are attached, but since I wanted to make sure the lyre would be playable I used pegs instead of a strip. In addition, since I didn’t have access to a tortoise shell, I constructed the sound box out of wood.

Sources, Resources and Links

An image of a Chelys-Lyra on a vase is available at the University of Pennsylvania Museum.

Science Topics
Inventions & Scientists
Social Studies Topics
Ancient History
Music, Art, and Language Arts Topics
Musical Instruments
K-6, Middle School, High School
Kindergarten, 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade, 10th Grade, 11th Grade, 12th Grade

What are you looking for?


Smith College

Website URL

Type of Resource


Assigned Categories